Nc'nean's Aon 18-642 Ex-Bourbon Single Cask Is Worth The $130 Price: Our Review

It's extraordinary how well a spirit can transform and change its metaphorical shape on occasion. Even Scotch — which exists in a box of sorts given its production history and tradition – can take on new flavors and features while still maintaining its core foundation. The Nc'nean distillery has broken out of that metaphorical box with its Aon 18-642 release. Now, this limited-edition single-cask whisky may look like a standard Scotch from the outside. But being aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, this expression from Nc'nean embodies something similar to a born-and-bred American-made spirit.

Nc'nean first began distilling whisky in 2017 on the west coast of Scotland, making its name largely off the success of its tasty (and planet-friendly) Organic Single Malt Whisky. While it's established itself in the U.K. and Europe, and previously released seasonal expressions and single-cask varietals in those markets, the Aon 18-642 whisky is set to be the brand's first single-cask Scotch sold exclusively in the U.S.

Since a good Scotch is an investment (like a nice piece of jewelry), you may be wondering whether this single-cask, high-end whisky is worth purchasing. With that in mind, I sampled the latest release from Nc'nean. Here's my review of Nc'nean Aon 18-642 whisky.

Some recommendations are based on first-hand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by the manufacturer.

What is Nc'nean Aon 18-642?

Nc'nean distillery has created a series of expressions harkening back to the brand's Gaelic roots with its Aon series. This collection is composed of single-cask whiskies — "aon" translates to "one" in Gaelic — that were first filled during Nc'nean's second year of production and bottled at cask strength.

Nc'Nean's Aon 18-642 Scotch is non-chill filtered, aged in ex-bourbon casks, and bottled at 60.4% ABV. Furthermore, like the rest of the distillery's whiskies, Aon 18-642 is certified organic and bottled in 100% recycled glass bottles, adhering to Nc'nean's ethos of sustainable production and its B Corp certification.

Additionally, because Nc'nean already uses ex-American whiskey casks at its distillery, including ex-bourbon casks, it's understandable why it decided to release a single-cask expression from one of its already-maturing barrels. According to Annabel Thomas, founder of Nc'nean, the use of the bourbon casks — and the flavors they impart in the whisky — help embody the distillery's story, which began in the U.K. before slowly making its way to the U.S., as well.

Pricing and availability

As a single-cask expression, there's a limited amount of whisky to be bottled and sold, meaning there's only so much Aon 18-642 to go around. As such, Nc'Nean is releasing a mere 244 bottles onto the market, which will only be available in select states. With a suggested price of $130, this single-malt Scotch won't be cheap, and will be sold at select stores in the following U.S. states (while supplies last): California, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

While Aon 18-642 is the first U.S.-released entry in the Aon series, the brand hopes to offer more single-cask releases in the future for the American market. "The U.S. is a big place, and we want to make sure people get a fair chance on these incredibly special releases," said Nc'Nean founder Annabel Thomas. It's yet to be decided if the next round of single-cask releases will be from ex-bourbon casks specifically, but any whisky enthusiasts who aren't able to secure a bottle the first time around should have another chance at the next Aon released stateside.

Tasting notes

As a cask-strength Scotch with bourbon characteristics, Aon 18-642 is a bit of a split personality expression. The 60.4% ABV speaks volumes, packing a heavy punch of spice and wood on the initial sip that could be a bit much for a first-time Scotch whisky drinker. However, after a few moments, that initial heaviness melts away, showing a sweeter side which is much more characteristic of the bourbon barrel it spent time in.

The aroma is mellow and sweet, with vanilla and honey followed by subtle notes of ripe stone fruit. After a quick swirl, things open up a bit more, and some heather and moss notes also come through. On the palate, this Scotch immediately shows its cask strength with a powerful, fiery hit. Give it a moment, though, as that heavy intensity immediately subsides to gentle, sweet notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and syrupy golden raisins. The flavor lingers for a bit, then has a mellow, creamy finish, with some final notes of peach jam and brandied cherries.

As someone who drinks Scotch almost exclusively neat, I know that this particular spirit is a lot all on its own. For a far more inviting sip, I suggest adding a splash of water to help mellow things out ever so slightly without diluting any flavor.

Nc'nean Aon 18-642 vs. Nc'nean Organic Single Malt Whisky

While there are several impressive single-cask expressions on the whisky market, it seems only fitting to compare the newest release from Nc'nean with its predecessor: Nc'Nean Organic Single Malt Whisky. After all, this latest expression may not even exist with the distillery's Organic Single Malt Whisky.

Starting with the aesthetics of the liquid, Nc'nean Aon 18-642 is light and straw-like in color, whereas Nc'nean Organic Single Malt Whisky has a darker, amber hue to it. Both expressions are bottled in 700-milliliter, 100% recycled glass bottles, are non-chill filtered, and have no added colors. In addition to Aon 18-642's status as a limited release, it's also bottled at its cask strength of 60.4% ABV, as opposed to the Single Malt's 46% ABV. This higher strength makes for a far more complex sip with a heavier, richer flavor profile and mouthfeel.

Additionally, while Aon 18-642 sits at a luxury price point starting at $130 (depending on location), the Organic Single Malt variety starts at a far more affordable $70. Plus, with a very limited number of bottles in circulation for the Aon 18-642, it's a much more difficult bottle to find than the brand's flagship whisky. While both are high-quality, whisky enthusiasts may be pleasantly surprised to find Nc'nean's Organic Single Malt Whisky is an equally enjoyable spirit with more availability and a more palatable price point.

How best to enjoy Nc'nean Aon 18-642

It's easy to look at a high-quality Scotch whisky — especially an expensive one with limited availability — and decide it must be sipped neat with no exceptions. Now, I generally agree with that statement wholeheartedly. After all, if it's an excellent Scotch, why ruin it by mixing it and diluting its flavor? That being said, Nc'nean Aon 18-642 may be a Scotch, but aging in ex-bourbon casks has it cosplaying as something slightly different in the glass — something that can benefit from some very gentle mixology.

While the high price point and limited availability suggest this should be left to stand alone, the whisky's sweet flavor lends it to the simplest of traditional bourbon cocktails. A smooth old fashioned, with only a few simple ingredients, is a great option to let the candied lemon, vanilla, and cinnamon notes shine. Additionally, the Gold Rush is another simple and classic bourbon cocktail that combines whisky with lemon juice and honey for a sweet and refreshing tipple — one that helps complement the fruit-forward flavor profile.

To tap into its core as a U.K. spirit, a neat glass of Aon 18-642 can be the boozy addition to an afternoon tea spread alongside a cinnamon or vanilla-scented bun, or a freshly baked scone (complete with jam and clotted cream). Or consider taking a quick jaunt across the English Channel to France and pair this Scotch with a rich, buttery pain au chocolat.

Is it worth it?

Scotch, in any form, is an acquired taste. It can be aggressive and complex, and while it holds a special place in many hearts around the globe, it's not for everyone. As a cask-strength Scotch, Aon 18-642 has its walls up. It's a strong sip that can simply be too much for even the most enthusiastic brown spirits drinkers. However, for a true whisky enthusiast who can handle the heat? Aon 18-642 is a worthwhile bottle to have in your home bar.

Even with the luxury price tag, Aon 18-642 is reasonably priced in the grand scheme of the Scotch whisky market (especially considering its limited production and exclusive availability in the U.S.). Nc'nean has once again produced something exceptional, and U.S. Scotch whisky lovers who are fortunate enough to grab a bottle for themselves will be both impressed and delighted with it. If this is only the first of the Aon series to be released in the U.S., I'm waiting with bated breath for the next release — and hope it's as impressive as this one.